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December 13, 2012

Catching up is hard to do

NCLB called on public schools to close achievement gaps, and that focus is one thing that’s not likely to change whenever Congress gets around to reauthorizing ESEA. However, a new study by ACT shows how long the odds are for low-achieving 4th and 8th graders to eventually graduate college-ready, which should make us think about how to go about gap closing.

ACT has once again mined its considerable databases to track the progress of students as they moved from 4th to 12th grades in order to find out how many ended up “college ready.”  ACT grouped students by three achievement levels: on track to college-readiness, off track, and far off track. Here’s what they found about 8th graders’ chances:

This table means that only 10 percent of students who were far off track in 8th grade were college ready in reading by 12th grade. The analysts further found that African American and Hispanic 8th graders were twice as likely to be “far off track” than their white classmates.  Similar patterns were evident among 4th graders, too.

If there’s a silver lining in this news, it’s this: “Far off” students who attended the top 10 percent of schools were about three times as likely to become college-ready.  In reading, for example, 28 percent of “far off” 8th graders in the top schools had become college-ready by the time they were seniors compared to the overall average of 10 percent.

This shows us that there are things schools can do to reverse the downward trajectory of low achievement. At the same time, though, it underscores how hard it is to break these trends after 4th grade. As if we still needed another argument for starting early with high-quality pre-k, ACT has surely given us one.  But they also provide evidence for never giving up on kids and their capacity to learn to high levels, even in high school.

A note on methodology: ACT’s college-ready benchmark is the score at which students have a 75 percent chance of earning a C or better and a 50 percent chance of earning a B or better in the relevant college freshman course.   Their database has data for students in a half dozen states who take the ACT series of aligned tests at 4th, 8th and end of high school. You can find their report “Catching up to college and career readiness” — and I encourage you to do so — at www.act.org.

August 22, 2012

More graduates ready for college math and science, according to ACT report

The number of high school graduates ready for first year college math and science courses continues to increase, according to The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2012 report released today.  This is likely due to a significant increase in the number of graduates completing more math and science courses over the past several years.

The Findings

State Scores

  • Of the 28 states where at least 40 percent of graduates took the ACT:
    • Minnesota achieved the highest composite score of 22.8.
      • 74 percent of Minnesota graduates took the ACT
    • Wisconsin had the next highest score at 22.1
      • 71 percent of Wisconsin graduates took the ACT.
  • Of the nine states where 100 percent of graduates took the ACT:
    • Illinois had the highest score at 20.9, followed by North Dakota (20.7) and Colorado (20.6).
    • Tennessee (19.7), Kentucky (19.8), and Mississippi (18.7) had the lowest scores out of this group.

National Scores

  • The nation’s graduating Class of 2012 had an average composite score of 21.1, which was unchanged from 2011 as well as unchanged from 2008.
    • At this score, an average high school graduate has about a 73 percent chance of getting admitted into a good college*.
  • Scores decreased by one-tenth of a point on the English (20.5) and reading (21.3) tests between 2008 and 2012, while scores on the science (20.9) test remained the same. Math (21.1) scores in 2012 were the same as in 2008.
  • Scores by ethnic/racial groups were mixed.
    • Hispanic graduates made the greatest improvement by increasing their score three-tenths of a point in just one year (18.6 to 18.9).
    • The average Black graduate score was 17.0 in 2012, which was one-tenth higher than in 2008 but the same as in 2011.
    • The average White graduate score was 22.4 in 2012, which was the same as in 2011 but three-tenths higher than in 2008.

College Readiness

  • Twenty-five percent of 2012 high school graduates were college ready in all four ACT subject tests (English, Reading, Math, and Science), which is no different from 2011 and a 3 percentage point increase from 2008.
    • Of the 28 states that had at least 40 percent of their graduates take the ACT, Minnesota was the only state where more than 50 percent of their graduates were college ready in at least three of four subjects.
      • Less than 30 percent of graduates in Kentucky, Mississippi, & Tennessee were college ready in three of four subjects.
    • Graduates who achieve these benchmarks are ready to succeed in first-year, credit-bearing college courses in the specific subjects ACT tests, according to ACT research. “Success” is defined as a 75% likelihood of earning a ‘C’ or better in the relevant course.
  • More Black and Hispanic graduates are college ready but were still much less likely to be college ready than their White peers.
    • The percent of Black graduates meeting all four benchmarks increased from 3 to 5 percent from 2008 to 2012 while the percent of Hispanic students increased from 10 to 13 percent over the same time period.
    • However, these percentages are much lower than the 32 percent of White graduates who met all four benchmarks.
  • The percent of graduates who scored at or above the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks increased from 43 percent to 46 percent in math and from 28 percent to 31 percent in science between 2008 and 2012.
    • Over the same time period there was a one percentage point drop in the number of graduates who were college ready in English (67 percent in 2012) and reading (52 percent in 2012).   

Core Course Rigor

  • Seventy-six percent of ACT test takers completed the recommended “core” college-preparatory curriculum, which is an increase from just 61 percent in 2008.
  • High school graduates who completed a core curriculum earned composite test scores 2.5 to 3.1 points higher than graduates who did not complete a core curriculum.
    • A three point increase in an ACT score for an average graduate increases his or her chances of getting admitted into a good college from 62 percent to 72 percent.*
  • Black and Hispanic graduates were less likely to have completed a core curriculum than White graduates.
    • While 77 percent of White graduates complete a core curriculum, just 72 percent of Black graduates and 73 percent of Hispanic graduates did so.

Test Takers

  • About 52 percent of all 2012 high graduates took the ACT, compared to 43 percent in 2008.
  • More minority graduates are taking the ACT.
    • In 2012, nearly 27 percent of ACT test takers were Hispanic or Black, compared to 20 percent in 2008.
    • Furthermore, the percentage of test takers who were White decreased between 2008 and 2012, from 63 percent to 59 percent.

Although scores remained flat it is important to point out that the percent of graduates considered “college ready” in math and reading increased, and has been increasing for several years even though many more traditionally disadvantaged graduates are now taking the ACT. This shows our high schools are graduating more graduates ready to succeed in college in their first year math and science courses – which are the most common roadblocks to college completion.

The increase in college readiness for math and science is likely because more graduates are taking more rigorous courses. As the Center’s Chasing the College Acceptance Letter found, those graduates who take more rigorous courses increase their chances of getting into a good college at a greater rate than graduates who simply improve their grades.

However, the results also show that progress has been slow and gaps between groups of graduates persist. The progress needs to accelerate exponentially to close the gap between the percent of graduates who want to go onto earn a 4-year degree and those who are “college ready” so they are adequately prepared for such college level work when they enter college. Yes, high schools are on the right track, but there is much more work to be done to truly meet the needs of their graduates.– Jim Hull

For more information on how to use college entrance exam scores to evaluate your school, check out the Center’s Date First Web site.

 * Data based on calculations from the Center for Public Education’s Chasing the College Acceptance Letter: Is it harder to get into college.

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